Television programs that portray sex thoughtfully are often quieter, following female points of view, like The Affair or Outlander. A show that will feature a man getting eaten by a vagina, for instance, sounds far too lurid and over-the-top to make any headway in sexual politics, but American Gods will do just that. If the show adheres to its source material, and if creator quotes are to be believed, American Gods will bring an entirely fresh perspective to the depiction of sexuality on television.
Critic Maureen Ryan recently interviewed a range of showrunners and writers about sexual violence on prestige TV. American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller said, “I personally think that [sexual violence] stains a story, in a way, in that it prevents you from being able to celebrate different aspects of sexuality. America as a country has a very fucked-up attitude regarding sex and sexuality, so there is something [troubling] about the punishing of characters for their sex and sexuality.”
This attitude is a signifier of what’s to come in the show not only on a writing level, but also a thematic level. American Gods is a story that explores American attitudes towards everything under the kitchen sink: religion, dive bars, Wednesdays, prison, death, sex, you name it. And Fuller’s words display a keen understanding of the link between sexuality and the American identity.
Vagina-death aside, American Gods will require scenes that aren’t exactly your standard TV-show sex. The book also features a sex scene between a man and a cat-goddess person and one between a gay Muslim man and a male fire-creature. The sex isn’t there just to be raunchy and surprising, but rather because the story knows that America is a deviant place that pretends it isn’t. Characters in American Gods have sex that others would consider unusual — and yet the story never punishes them for it.
Fuller’s words signify that he and and his co-writers will do justice to these complicated, envelope-pushing scenes. But they also speak to a larger issue: philosophy. Though America has Puritan roots, Neil Gaiman’s meandering version of a great American novel challenges the reader to reach past the roots and find the whole damn tree.
While plenty of other shows explore sex in smart ways that comment on relevant social issues, they rarely have the opportunity to hone in on them as a hallmark of American identity during a time when it’s in crisis.
2017 is a year when the country will be falling under a regime that is politicizing non-heteronormative bedroom activities. It’s never been more apparent that Fuller’s words are right: A fucked-up attitude about sex is rooted in the American identity. If we’re going to get cat-person sex and death by vagina, they’ll make a bigger splash coming from a creator who understands what’s behind them. Though it was written sixteen years ago, in 2017, look to American Gods to offer a much-needed fiction about what’s under fire in America today.